Our Ultimate Guide to Saving Water in Your Backyard in California Drought

backyard with saving water drought resistant design like landscaping and low splash waterfalls in the pool
Picture of The Green Scene
The Green Scene

Landscaping & Swimming Pools

Drought is nothing new to California, but whenever it hits our golden state, it’s relentlessly detrimental to everybody. It can be particularly hard to make your backyard and garden thrive with little water. If you need some tips and advice for caring for your yard during this time, here’s our ultimate guide to saving water in your backyard in California drought conditions.

Save Water in Your Landscaping

There are several ways to save your landscaping from the adverse effects of drought, including:

Water Deep and Less Frequently

During times of drought, you can actually save water (and save your landscaping) by watering deep and less frequently. Set aside a certain amount of time each week to water or automate your sprinkler or drip irrigation system to fit this schedule. For example, rather than watering for five minutes four times a week, water 20 minutes two days a week. A Rachio sprinkler timer works great for automating your sprinkler system.

Use a Wetting Agent

A wetting agent like Hydretain RTS is another way to reduce the amount you water your landscaping. Hydretain RTS works like a water magnet by attracting free water molecules from vapor in the air and turns it into liquid that soaks deep into the plants’ roots rather than evaporating away.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Mulch helps with moisture retention and weed abatement, ensuring that the water you do use lasts for as long as possible and prevents invasive weeds from sucking up all of your landscaping water.

The best mulch for water retention is wood mulch, such as pine mulch, wood chips, and hard bark mulch. Unless you’re raising a rock garden that doesn’t require any watering at all, avoid using gravel or rocks during drought because they dry up any moisture beneath them and can actually even burn your plants.

For more water saving landscaping ideas, read here.

Best Drought-Resistant Plants for California

Another way to save water during California drought is by planting drought-resistant plants. Here are some of the best plants to use!

Lawn grass

Tall Fescue

With brand names like Marathon, Medallion, and Centurion, Tall Fescue is one of the most popular grasses in California, especially during drought. When irrigated properly, Tall Fescue can grow roots up to 3 feet deep, compared with only 14 inches on Blue Grass. Watering deeper but less often encourages the roots to grow and stretch for water, resulting in a more drought tolerant lawn.


Another popular drought-resistant grass is Bermudagrass. While it does require a little more upkeep than Fescue, like more mowing, it’s hardy and thrives in the warm Mediterranean climate of Southern California.

Zoysia grass

Zoysia is a warm season grass that thrives in full sun and can handle heavy foot traffic. It provides a dense mat, which is great for putting under play sets or on sports fields. It goes dormant in the winter “turns brown” so it’s not the first choice for most residential properties. Even with little watering, Zoysia stays lush and thick. It will even choke out water-wasting weeds.

St. Augustine grass

Like Zoysia, St. Augustine grass grows thick enough to keep out weeds and usually goes dormant in the winter. It is a darker green and more attractive than Zoysia. It handles pet urine well as it’s more salt tolerant. St. Augustine is your first choice for a lawn with pets in partial shade. It is very drought-resistant and doesn’t require much watering. 

Artificial Turf

Yeah, we said it. If you want the most drought-resistant lawn on the block, go with artificial turf. It requires no watering, no mowing, yet stays green all year long. There are artificial turf options out there that look just as good as real grass. Keep in mind that artificial turf is hotter than concrete, so be sure to design in stepping stones to accommodate foot traffic.


Succulents are native to dry landscapes, so they thrive during times of drought. And there’s a wide variety of succulents to choose from, like Agave, Aloe, Hens and Chicks (also known as Rosettes), Snake Plant, and so much more. If you’d like a pop of color with your succulents, check out Flaming Katys (also known as Kalanchoe).

drought resistant flowers planted by a small contemporary swimming pool


If you’d still like some flowers included in your landscaping, here are some of the most drought-resistant ones.


Geraniums are a super hardy flower. Incredibly drought tolerant, it doesn’t take much water to keep their leaves green and their wide range of colors bright. There are a wide variety of Geraniums available. Our favorites include Martha Washington, Ivy, and scented (think chocolate, peppermint, rose or citronella).


Lavender is another flowering plant that grows well in the Mediterranean climate of California. It loves the heat and doesn’t need much water to thrive. Lavender is best known for its light purple flowers and strong fragrance. We have clients that dry their Lavender to use in the bathtub or when folding sheets.


Roses are surprisingly drought tolerant once established, and only need occasional deep watering and mulch to live through tough drought conditions and bloom.

Here are more drought tolerant plant tips:

Saving Water with Your Swimming Pool

Did you know that there are a number of ways to save water when caring for your pool? You may be surprised to learn that your swimming pool uses less water than your lawn!

Use a Pool Cover

Whether you use an automatic cover or a bubble cover, having a swimming pool cover is one of the top ways to save water during a drought. Covers reduce evaporation in your pool by 95%, which means you’ll need to add water less often. They also help with saving on pool chemical usage, because when your pool water evaporates, it takes the chemicals right along with it. 

Switch to Cartridge Filters

If possible, switch to cartridge filters instead of using a diatomaceous earth (DE) filter. Cartridge filters don’t need frequent backwashing, unlike DE filters that require hundreds of gallons of water per year to backwash and keep your pool clean.

Save Water with Water Features

low splash orb fountains by a modern swimming pool
Baffles help reduce excess splashing from water features like these orb fountains, saving water in the process.

Water features are great for making your swimming pool look stunning, but can also waste water if not monitored carefully.

The first step is to choose a water-saving water feature design that reduces splashing. You’ll do this by adding baffles, which are flat pieces of metal that go into the water outtake valve that helps keep water from splashing as it flows and falls from the water feature.

water saving waterfall baffles

Like your sprinklers, you can automate your water features to only run during the times you would be home to enjoy them most.

For more water saving tips for your pool, read here.


You can save water in your backyard during times of extreme drought in California. Follow us for more drought-saving tips or subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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